Giving Thanks in Newport Beach
Thanksgiving is a time of family gathering, reflection, and genteel warmth as blessings are counted – just as long as you’re not the one charged with hosting duties. If you are, then it can be a stressful period of food prep, meticulous home arrangement, and utter exhaustion that can set in even before the first family member arrives. It also leaves whatever level of cooking skills you possess to open unabashed, wide-open criticism by certain loved ones, especially after multiple glasses of wine.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Newport Beach is home to several restaurants that can remove the burden of Thanksgiving dinner clean off your shoulders, so you can enjoy the holiday as it was meant to be enjoyed. What’s more, there’s very little chance that you’ll hear that one family member of yours whine about the food. You know the one.
The restaurants that follow are offering special Thanksgiving feasts of various shapes and sizes, featuring dishes that will make you thankful that you didn’t have to break a sweat in your kitchen. Some are putting together multi-course dinners that provide a holiday with an elegant touch. Others are rolling out killer buffets that let you indulge the time-honored tradition of eating way too much. You can’t go wrong either way. (Format listed in parentheses)
Andrea at Pelican Hill (Four-course dinner with cocktail and optional wine-pairing) – Turkey and its associative trimmings command Thanksgiving’s spotlight for obvious reasons. However, a well-made selection of appetizers can steal a little bit of the bird’s thunder. This isn’t a bad thing in the least bit, as a properly-made first round of sumptuous delights can be indicative of the quality of the feast yet to come. When you come to Pelican Hill Resort’s luxurious flagship restaurant and select the House-Made Porchetta for your first-course option, you’ll have a fantastic indication of what the rest of the day’s meal has in store. Served with pickled veggies, arugula, and stracchino cheese, this intrusion of Tuscany into your Turkey Day will delight your taste buds as it puts you at ease – especially when it’s paired with a glass of Prosecco.
Back Bay Bistro (Buffet) – If you’re not going to finish your Thanksgiving with dessert, you may as well not bother with Thanksgiving. If this wasn’t the case, it’s highly doubtful we’d try our darnedest to save a few centimeters of stomach space for sweet stuff as we glutton it up. The venerable Newport Dunes venue rewards those that do reserve room at meal’s end with an impressive dessert spread highlighted by a classic trio of Pies: Pumpkin, Pecan, and Caramelized Apple. Because it’s a buffet spread, you don’t have to choose one or the other if you don’t want. Heck, you can even start your feast with a slice if you really wish. Who are we to judge?
The Bungalow (Three-Course Dinner) – Fun fact: The first Thanksgiving was a seafood-heavy affair. According to historic documents, turkey and pumpkins were served alongside fish, clams, and lobster on that fateful day in 1621; the lack of these seafaring goodies on modern-day menus feels like a dreadful oversight in retrospect. Fortunately, this Corona del Mar venue is bringing a touch of the very old-school back through their Thanksgiving Day menu, courtesy of their indulgent Lobster Bisque Soup. Loaded with generous chunks of Northern Australian lobster, this rich, sherry wine-infused bisque may have you lamenting that the fourth Thursday in November isn’t nicknamed Seafood Day.
The Cannery Seafood of the Pacific (Three-Course Dinner) – Thanksgiving turkey gets in the way of side dishes for some people. Not that they can be blamed; items like stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole can be exceptional. The Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and Corn Bread Stuffing sides prepared by this waterfront Balboa Peninsula restaurant seemed custom-made for those that live for Turkey Day accompaniments. Each dish showcases a level of flavor complexity and composition that is typically reserved for main entrees that may have the side-loving members of your dining party keeping them away from others. You’ve been warned.
Harborside (Buffet) – Thanksgiving can be torment for those carnivores that don’t dig on turkey. While there are loads of side dishes these souls can load up on, a substantial lack of turkey on their plate leaves behind a sad protein-less hole no accompaniment can adequately fill. Fortunately, sanctuary can be found at this historic Balboa Peninsula venue’s Thanksgiving buffet in the form of their Hand-Sliced Colorado Prime Rib. This classic cut of red meat is as tender, juicy, and succulent as a prime rib should be, making it the pitch-perfect turkey alternative for those that aren’t fond of the bird. Of course, you’ll want to dig into this prime piece of protein even if you are a turkey fan.
Oak Grill (Four-Course Dinner) – You don’t need to bombard your senses with a slew of traditional Thanksgiving ingredients to capture the day’s autumnal-based culinary spirit. If anything, exploring creative ways to kindle feelings of epicurean warmth oftentimes result in the most rewarding dishes. This is why the Beet and Roasted Pear Salad offered up at the Island Hotel Newport Beach’s flagship venue is so exceptional. It works because the intrusion of Turkey Day is subtly mixed in with the dish’s secondary ingredients, which include spiced pumpkin seeds, roasted chestnut butter, and chevre. Their presence adds a dimensional nuance that ultimately makes the dish a surprising delight – something that seems especially noteworthy in a day whose foods are so deeply ensconced in familiar realms.
The Ritz Prime Seafood (Four-Course Dinner) – We know, we know: “These dishes are great and all, but where, pray tell, is the turkey?” Don’t worry – we got you covered. Or to put it more accurately, this waterfront Mariner’s Mile venue has you covered, and how. Its Heritage Turkey Breast and Leg Confit with Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce and Classic Gravy is almost a self-contained Thanksgiving dinner packed into one main entrée, as its mix of meaty, earthy, tart, spicy, and sweet flavor notes playfully mimic the glorious moments of culinary happenstance when a collection of Turkey Day bites end up jumbled on a fork. It’s the kind of flavor combination that singlehandedly makes Thanksgiving dining so special, regardless of who’s sitting at your table.
The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar (Three-Course Dinner) – Thanksgiving is a thoroughly American national holiday. (Yes, Canadians also do Thanksgiving, but it’s not quite a national holiday up there thanks to the Maritime Provinces). That’s not to say that there isn’t room in the day to indulge in an Italian-inspired creation. This elegant Mariner’s Mile restaurant expertly demonstrates this with their Pumpkin & Ricotta Ravioli appetizer. The delicate pasta is carefully stuffed to capacity with a lush combo of crumbly cheese and whipped gourd to create a perfectly light expression of tart and sweet with just the right tone of seasonal ambiance. Think of it as Turkey Day in an edible pillow.